I am no stranger to online education now that I have been a digital student since 2005, when I signed up for my first set of web classes through an online for-profit university. Over the course of the last eight years, many facets of the online learning system have changed, including the platforms the classes are presented on and taught through, the number of colleges and universities offering online courses, and, perhaps most dramatically, the cost.
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Thanks to the recent influx of massive open online courses (MOOCs) being offered by some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities for free, the education that was once out of the reach of so many is now within grasp. Since completing my Associate’s Degree through the same for-profit university in May, I have also participated in a number of MOOCs offered through Stanford University. As a small business owner, parent, and perpetual community volunteer, I have had to find little tricks over the years to help me manage my time wisely, complete my coursework, stay on top of client projects, and raise a family. Here are ten tips I’ve found to help me be successful:
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1. Do thorough research first. Check up on the university or college you are interested in, the learning platform, the course outline, class dates and times (if applicable), and any other available resources. Because of the time commitment involved, you should do your due diligence from the beginning and be fully educated about your choices before moving forward with a MOOC.
2. Choose a topic you are truly interested in. Generally speaking, people tend to block out what they aren’t interested in, so why waste your time and the time of your professor by signing up for a course you aren’t going to enjoy or take any interest in? Respect yourself and your professors by only signing up for MOOCs you truly intend to fully participate in.
3. Be honest with yourself about the time commitment. An online course requires just as much of a time commitment as an on-campus course or part-time job, so you’ll need to be clear from the beginning as to whether you have the necessary time available to devote to the MOOC. If you find that you’re pressed for time, chances are the online course you’re interested in now will be offered again in the future, so if it’s really important to you, you can make a few changes to your schedule to better accommodate the course and study time.
4. Be up front with your family and friends about your new adventure. They will want to celebrate your accomplishments with you and their support will help push you through the hard times when you’re ready to give up. Plus if you’re clear from the beginning about your commitment to the MOOC and about the time commitment that goes along with it, this knowledge will help them be more understanding and supportive when the time comes to study.
5. Determine time allotments from the beginning. Figure out when you will schedule time for homework, as well as class and collaboration time, add it to whatever time management calendar you choose to use, and then treat those times the same as you would any important appointment or meeting. If you give yourself permission from the beginning to treat the MOOCs like the professional commitment that they are from the beginning, you will find yourself less stressed and more mentally available to your family and clients during the rest of the time.
6. Get your computer ready for the course. As soon as possible, you should set up and check your audio and video capabilities, along with any other system or material requirements. Typically, MOOCs open up the classroom to students at least a week before the class actually commences giving you the perfect opportunity to make sure all of your equipment is in working condition. Trust me, this will save you a lot of time and frustration.
7. Time yourself. Utilize an online timer when working on coursework to help you stay on track. No need to worry about losing track of time now, just set the timer for your designated time and get to work, when the timer goes off you know it’s time to stop and move on.
8. Know your study habits. Only you know when your body and brain work most efficiently. Schedule your MOOC coursework for that time of the day. Working during this time of the day will help you get the best “bang for your buck” if you will, since your brain will be more clear and focused on the work at hand.
9. Allow for collaboration. Be prepared to participate and collaborate with your fellow students. Again, just like in an on-site classroom, you are sharing the course with other students who are just as eager as you are to glean valuable information and the courses are set up to encourage collaboration with these other students. Often, part of your final grade will be based your participation with the class throughout the course.
10. Rest. After your MOOC is over, allow your brain to relax and schedule some time to recover. I’ve found my mind needs a little time to soak up and digest all of the information it has just taken in and my family needs a little time to soak up my attention before I set my sights on my next adventure.
These are just some of the strategies I’ve used over the last eight years to help me be successful in my online educational experience, I hope you find them helpful as well.
Amanda Henson is a freelance digital marketing consultant who blogs about her journey in continuing her education as a self-described “perpetual student.” You can keep up with her on her blog It’s Me Amanda.